Abstract

Normal faults on the outer slopes of trenches and collisional foredeeps reveal that high-amplitude lithospheric flexure can result in inelastic extensional deformation of the convex side of a flexed plate. This process, which we call "flexural extension," differs fundamentally from rifting in that the lower lithosphere contracts while the upper lithosphere extends. In the Taconic foreland of New York, a >100-km-wide zone of brittle failure propagated ahead of the convergent plate boundary, rupturing the upper crust to an estimated depth of 15-20 km. Dip-slip displacement on normal faults in the Taconic and Arkoma foredeeps produced water depths like those in the closest modern analogue, the Timor Trough. Structural evidence does not support common illustrations of flexural normal faults as planar-irrotational structures which simply die out at shallow crustal depths. Instead, the surface geology shows that flexural normal faulting must be rotational with respect to the enveloping surface of the flexed plate. This toppled domino geometry implies the presence at depth of a detachment or zone of distributed ductile simple shear where fault displacement and block rotation are accommodated.

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